Chapter 5: First Firsts

(The Hockey Bag series was previously published on NHL.com)

It only took twelve powerskating classes, four seasons of co-ed spongie, three sets of skills and drills lessons, two (sort of) scrimmages, and one 12-year-old’s inspiration, to prepare me for the inevitably inevitable – my first hockey game.

And it happened last night – a special night of many firsts that I would now like to share with you:

First team…I found them thanks to a new friend who took the same “skills and drills” lessons last winter. She told me she played for a team. I told her I wanted to play for a team. It was a match made in hockey heaven. Still, walking into the change room to dress in my new Easton gear for my first game was intimidating, as most of the women knew each other. But they were all friendly, and welcomed this rookie right from the start. (Even without seeing me skate!) It felt pretty good, being part of team To Be Named. Yes, that is actually what we are called for now, because our team is still to be named. So I guess it’s not really our name. But at the same time, it kind of is.

First hockey number…Okay, so maybe it was fashioned out of white hockey tape to crudely resemble 23, and stuck to the back of my undersized black jersey, but it did the job. And for the record, let me clarify that I did not choose that number because of the recent movie The Number 23. I’ll have you know that has loooong been my number – ever since winning a bingo jackpot at the age of eight on lucky I-23. So all I have to say to Jim Carey and Virginia Madsen is… NICE TRY, turning my number into a Hollywood movie. But at the end of the day up here in Winnipeg, it’s still my number. And now, it’s hanging off the back of my hockey jersey… BINGO!!

First contact with puck during regulation play…This one took a while. We were probably into our second period and at least my fifth shift on the ice playing right wing, before I got up enough nerve to go anywhere NEAR the puck. Because from past experiences, I’ve come to realize that as soon as you touch the puck, people chase after you. And trying to flee on skates can be scary. So I tend to avoid the puck. Which, in hindsight, doesn’t really work well when playing hockey…

First offside…And hopefully my ONLY offside EVER. You know, I’ve been watching hockey all my life so I know exactly what that is, and how to avoid it. And I told myself before stepping onto the ice that I WASN’T going to get an offside call. Only a complete ROOKIE would do that… Well, there was this one moment when the puck was in the other team’s zone and everybody was skating all around, then it got shot back out across the centre line to one of our players. Then everybody from my team left the zone. Except for me. But then suddenly, one of my players shot it back, and there was NOBODY ELSE AROUND. So I started skating straight for the net, thinking, oh my god, this is my big break-away! That is, until the ref blew the whistle and the dream was shattered…

First break-away…Yes, this was actually a real break-away, not an offside-inducing-make-believe-break-away… One of my teammates passed the puck to me and it actually connected to my stick. There I was, all alone, and skating towards the other team’s net. Not very confident (yet!) in stick-handling, I looked across the ice, hoping there would be another teammate to pass it to. And there was. So I passed it over. Except the other team had even MORE teammates in the area then we did, and the puck ended up going straight for one of their sticks. Doh!! But damn, it was a good pass… At least I think the other team thought so.

First attempted attempt at intimidation…So at one point the other team had the puck, and the player was stopped straight ahead of me, trying to decide where to pass it. Seeing as there was no one else around to go after her, I figured the task was up to me. So I did the only thing I could think of – charge right at her at top speed, and try to make her panic. Except, as soon as I started, it was me who panicked, because I suddenly remembered I’m not that good at stopping once I really get going. So I stopped short, and the hesitation allowed her just enough time to pass the puck away. Double doh!! In golf, they would call that a “chicken putt.” In hockey, I would call that just plain old chicken…

First pass to me in front of the net…Throughout the game I found that anytime we were in the attack zone, things got congested in front of the net with all those players from the other team hanging around. Still not comfortable being amongst the pack, my tendency is to stay clear of any given kerfluffle. But for one brief moment, for one split second, I was alone in front of the net, and WIDE OPEN. My quick-thinking teammate saw this, and passed it right to me! Did I mention I was WIDE OPEN?? My heart pounded as the puck flew towards me, heading right for my stick, and STILL nobody was around. So I faced the net, wound up, and took a shot. Looking towards the net, I couldn’t see the puck. Was it in?? Was it in??? Sadly, by then, I realized the puck was all the way over in the corner, where the pack once again congregated. Oh, how quickly the dream of scoring comes… And goes…

First goal…Okay, it wasn’t exactly MINE, but it was scored by MY LINE – meaning I was on the ice and in the general vicinity of the puck when it happened. (Perhaps my lucky Number 23 helped seal the deal!) Upon further reflection, the real reason for the goal was most likely the terrific skating and stick-handling skills performed by our centre. It was awesome, actually, and I was graced with a spectacular view. There I was, out in front of the net, mesmerized by the way she weaved in and out of all the other players with the greatest of ease. I think I was kind of hoping she’d pass it to me, but more likely praying she wouldn’t… Then she turned towards the net, flipped it up off the ice, and with a flick of her wrist planted it firmly into the corner. Ahhh, it was a thing of sheer beauty! She is my new hero.

First loss…Despite that beautiful goal, alas, it was to be the only goal by team To Be Named. We ended up losing by a score of 6-1. Sad but true. For me though, I was still happy, because in my mind, the game was a huge success. I learned so much about how to play (and especially about how NOT to play) and at the same time got to meet a whole bunch of really cool women who are all as crazy about hockey as I am. Some of whom are also really good players. I can already tell that I will have many new heroes before the season is over.

Despite all these really great firsts, the best first of all is yet to come – my first WIN! And now that I’ve seen for myself the potential of team To Be Named, I know for a fact that it won’t be long…

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